Beyong outrage and mourning

Terrific summing up by Gideon Lichfield of Quartz:

But as the outrage dissolves and the mourning ends, the question will remain: What is the right relationship between free speech and a free society? Freedom of speech is never absolute. There are restrictions for hate speech, libel, state secrets, and so on. A blanket insistence on free speech at all costs is no less dogmatic than a blanket insistence on sharia law. Charlie Hebdo’s brand of satire was arguably racist and deliberately provocative. What we are defending when we defend its journalists is not their right to publish without limits, but their right not to get killed for doing it.

American graphic journalist Joe Sacco addressed this elegantly in a cartoon published on Friday. After affirming—and exercising—his right to vilify Muslims, Jews, black people, and anyone else, he wrote, “But perhaps when we tire of holding up our middle finger we can try to think about why the world is the way it is and what it is about Muslims in this time and place that makes them unable to laugh off a mere image. And if we answer, ‘Because something is deeply wrong with them’—certainly something was deeply wrong with the killers—then let us drive them from their homes and into the sea… for that is going to be far easier than sorting out how we fit in each other’s world.”

And then there’s Simon Jenkins, who at the moment is a fountain of good sense. For example:

Today’s French terrorists want a similarly hysterical response. They want another twist in the thumbscrew of the surveillance state. They want the media to be told to back off. They want new laws, new controls, new additions to the agenda of illiberalism. They know that in most western nations, including Britain, there exists a burgeoning industry of illiberal bureaucrats with empires to build. This industry may be careful of public safety, but it is careless of the comfort and standing it offers the terrorist. There will now be cries from the security services and parliament for more powers and more surveillance.

Few would be so foolish as to want any group, in this case journalists, to be left unprotected from acts such as those that have occurred in Paris. Huge resources have already been allocated to forestalling terrorist acts, and that is appropriate. But these acts are crimes and should be treated as such. They are for assiduous policing, at which Britain has so far been reasonably successful. They are not for constitutional deterioration.

Only weakened and failing states treat these crimes as acts of war. Only they send their leaders diving into bunkers and summoning up ever darker arts of civil control, now even the crudities of revived torture. Such leaders cannot accept that such outrages will always occur, everywhere. They refuse to respect limits to what a free society can do to prevent them.

Well, yes, but what we’re overlooking here is the role that Western media and electorates play in all this. One of the reasons why politicians react so irrationally to atrocities is because they fear that they will be crucified by the mass media and its readership if they are not seen to react theatrically, promise new measures, increased resources, more surveillance, etc. It seems that cool heads garner no votes, or editorial plaudits either.